The Arbeiter Ring absorbed all my interests and met all my social and recreational needs with its young people’s program…it was a remarkable education we got there. A broader, more penetrating introduction to what the world was all about…. we were exposed to a full measure of western thought and culture. If people comment on the large number of people from that relatively small ethnic community who have distinguished themselves in many fields, it is because we had a special kind of background and special kind of opportunity.
The contributions of Jews to the political, secular, and radical culture of Winnipeg are long and varied and distinguished by the eminent qualifications of the protagonists that have sought to provide a progressive and humanistic vision to the city’s development. Community activists, intellectuals, Jews and non-Jews alike have documented the experiences and achievements of the Cherniacks, Orlikows, Millers, Alcins, Zukens, among others, who were committed to the merging of theory and practice in fighting for social justice. They were representatives of various ideological tenets from anarchism to social democracy from labour Zionism to revolutionary Marxism and included involvement in the municipal, provincial, and federal arenas. Their identities were products of the rich legacy of Jewish radicalism formed in the shtetls of pre – twentieth century east European life often wrought with the scourge of antisemitism and periodic pogroms, adapted to the socio-economic and cultural conditions of Canadian life and perpetuated in part by communal educational structures that integrated a sense of Jewishness with an appeal to the universality of the human condition.
David Orlikow was one of the seminal figures in adapting a Jewish radical ethos to Winnipeg’s socio-economic and cultural reality. Orlikow adhered to a social democratic world view which placed primacy on political change by addressing the inequities of capitalism through reform and legislation.
Born in Winnipeg to Louis Orlikow and Sarah Cherniack, Orlikow, a pharmacist by trade, was part of a rich family tradition of political activists that included his father (active with the social democratic wing of the Arbeiter Ring/Workmen’s Circle as well as the Socialist Party of Canada), mother (elected a school board trustee for Ward 3 in 1925), brothers Archie and Lionel and cousins Saul and Mindel Cherniack, (the former a minister in the Schreyer NDP governments of the 1970s, the latter a prominent figure in the establishment of universal health care in Saskatchewan in 1944).
At the age of 16, Orlikow was hired as Western Canada Secretary of the Jewish Labour Committee and several years later became its National Director. In that position he emerged as a renowned spokesperson in the battle against antisemitism and racial discrimination. He was secretary of the Manitoba Labour Committee for Human Rights, member, and on the board of the John Fry and Elizabeth Howard Society, an organization dedicated to prison reform. He was also involved with the Canadian Labour Congress, the Manitoba Society of Seniors and helped to organize a steelworkers’ union in Thompson, Manitoba after INCO (International Nickle Company Organization) set up operations there.
Orlikow held elected office in virtually every level of government starting with his election to the Winnipeg School Board in 1944. In the 1950s he was a member of city council and in 1958 was elected as provincial NDP MLA representing the constituency of St. John’s. In 1962 Orlikow took his activism to the federal level. That year he was elected NDP MP for the riding of North Winnipeg a seat which he held until 1988. Both as an MLA and MP Orlikow tackled numerous issues that benefitted his constituents especially the low – incomed, disadvantaged, and marginalized sectors of society. Interviewed by Sheila Block in 1978, Orlikow pointed out that the issues that took up most of his time were advocating for full employment, decent housing, improving health care and addressing human rights especially in relation to indigenous peoples.
In 1946 David Orlikow wed Velma (Val) Kane. It was later discovered that when Val was a patient at Montreal’s Allan Memorial Institute (seeking treatment for postpartum depression) the CIA (American Central Intelligence Agency) she along with others was unknowingly subjected to brainwashing experiments. She was paid compensation by the CIA but not by the government of Canada which helped fund the experiments.
David Orlikow passed away in 1998. Gary Doer, at the time Leader of the official opposition provincial NDP had this to say about Orlikow:
He was very articulate about his passions. Working people and their families were his passion. The principles and policies that affected the livelihood of average working people, organized workers and non-organized workers were always front and centre on his mind. Certainly, he is a member of a north – end tradition and a group of politicians that have been tremendously successful in our party and in our movement: the Saul Millers, Saul Cherniacks and others in the North End of Winnipeg. They were really a very effective team, the federal MP and the very, very effective MLAs working together on behalf of their constituents.
Block Sheila. Interview with David Orlikow, August 15, 1978 (Jewish Heritage Centre)
CBC News. She went away hoping to get better. Family remembers Winnipeg woman put through